Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Two Canoe doggie rescue

They say never work with animals or children. Well I’ve lived and worked with dogs for many years and wouldn’t change it. But as any dog owner or Pet Minder like me knows, occasionally what starts off as a normal dog walk can turn into something quite different …

Here on the Central Coast I was pet sitting two lovely dogs, Leo the Labradoodle and Toto a Lagotto Romaganolo (an Italian gun/water dog).

I’ve pet minded Leo for 150+ days and since he’s not yet two this is like his second home. I also trained Leo for his owner from when he was a puppy so am confident he can be free in any dog off leash area as he can be relied upon to stay with me.

Toto looking as if butter would not melt...
Toto has selective recall, which is a concern as by 14 months you need to know your dog will not be running off. In particular if he sees birds he will dash after them and ignore calls to return.  Because of this to be safe side he had to remain on a leash or long lead when out.

Our fun daily exercise sessions are on the beach, but we also have a great walk was along the edge of Brisbane waters, which is where we were this day. So far so uneventful – who could have predicted it would end up in a two canoe doggie rescue!

Leo was let off the moment we reached the grass, and I attached a total of 3 leads onto Toto’s harness making a long lead to give him freedom to run and play fetch in the waters edge.

Always alert looking for birds
Fun and games until…. Toto saw some ducks and made a sudden lurch that pulled the leads out of Gail’s hand. Before she could grab the end he was off, bounding through the shallows then swimming out towards the birds in the distance.

Cue much calling of Toto! Toto!! TOTO!!! – but to no effect. Even the considerable weight of three leads could not hold him back as he struck out with determination for the ducks.

Gail stayed where Toto had got free whilst I ran round the bend in case he came to shore on the other side of the mangroves.  I could see him but even calling ‘Toto, TREATS!’ (he loves treats and this normally work like magic when we are at home) had no effect. His mind was only on reaching the ducks who, being in their domain, simply teased him by calmly paddling just out of his reach. And all the time he was being tempted to swim further and further away and at times he was so far away his head was a dot. 

Occasionally he’d turn and come back in our direction and we’d think he was coming ashore – but then he’d turn back out to open water again.

I ran to where I knew there were some small boats hoping to find an untethered one, but they were all locked so I ran back.

"Where's those ducks, let me at 'em"
By now our calls were becoming louder and more frantic. And as if all the racket we were making wasn’t bad enough, Toto, hugely frustrated by the restriction of the leads and not being able to get remotely close to the birds, started screaming!  This unique sound he makes is like no other dog I’ve ever heard - it sounded like someone was being tortured. All this hullabaloo carried over the Green Point airwaves so that anyone within a half mile radius would have heard the commotion!

This had been going of for over 10 minutes and I was seriously thinking I’d have to go in and swim for him (there’s nothing I won’t do for ‘my’ dogs!). However, just then I saw on the far bank a home owner we’d spoken to earlier (who’d asked why Toto was on 3 leads) paddling over to us in his canoe! At the same time from house right behind us a lady was bringing out their family canoe and paddle. So all that noise did have the benefit of local people seeing what was happening and fantastically coming to our aid.

 Gail got in a canoe and she and the man in the other canoe herded Toto by a pincer movement.  Gail did not want to risk Toto slipping out of a collar if she tried to swim him in, so with the gentleman holding her canoe she grabbed Toto and lifted him into hers. 
During all this mayhem thank goodness I could rely on Leo to stick by me! In fact he found it great fun chasing me as I ran back and forth along the bank variously trying to keep an eye on where Toto was or to find a boat.

By now a group of people were on the bank watching the ‘entertainment’. And as she came to shore Toto was sitting upright at the ‘helm’ of Gail’s canoe looking like Captain Cook!

(I’d forgotten my phone – the one day I do this happens -  but the kind lady who lent us her canoe went and got her phone and took some pics and you can just about see Toto on the front).

Once out Toto absolutely stank of mud and the murky water, so back home it was into a warm shower. 

Toto is a hugely energetic dog and very wired even after exercise – but after this marathon swim he certainly slept well!

This shows on the right where Toto escaped and on the left where they canoe'd him back
you can see the red lines which show where I ran to the left to try and find a boat!

LAGOTTO ROMANGANOLO means ‘Lake dog from Romagna’ (Italy)
Traditional function is as a gundog, specifically water retriever. Today they are often used to hunt for truffles. This breed of dog is very smart and Toto is a good example of that.

Toto came to me for the first time when he was 12 months old. Although I’d been given permission to let him be off lead, it became clear to me early on that his recall was too unreliable to be allowed off in my care.

When I realised I could no longer trust him to come to call I made an 8 metre long rope lead and used that so at least he could at least play and run to some extent when we went out.

When his owner collected him after his first stay I introduced her to the long leash. It is better than constantly being on a short leash, but long lead or short, never letting a dog run free means if they ever do escape it becomes very difficult to get them back.

Toto is about 14 months now and had a long time to figure out that he doesn’t have to come back once he’s free as he knows you can’t catch him. At his age now to achieve a reliable recall would be a real challenge – even for a very experienced trainer.

Never being able to be run free unless within a fenced compound - a life on lead - is the future for dogs not trained to recall.  This is why it is so essential to train and work on obedience and ‘good manners’ training as soon as you get your pup – the younger the better.

Good recall might not only save your dog’s life one day, but will ensure a good quality of life for them too.


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